What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex, lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation.

The Autism experience is different for everyone. Autism is often referred to as a “spectrum condition”, meaning it affects people in different ways and to varying degrees.

Some of the behaviors associated with Autism include:

  • delayed learning of language
  • difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation
  • difficulty with executive functioning (a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, & self-control)
  • narrow, intense interests
  • poor motor skills
  • sensory sensitivities

It’s important to remember that a person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors or just a few, or many others besides. The diagnosis of Autism spectrum disorder is applied based on analysis of all behaviors and their severity.

Autism Diagnosis

The average number of children in the United States who will receive an Autism diagnosis is 1 in every 36 (CDC, 2023).

When family members or support providers become concerned that a child is not following a typical developmental course, they turn to experts, including psychologists, educators and medical professionals, for a diagnosis.

At first glance, some people with Autism may appear to have an intellectual disability, sensory processing issues, or problems with hearing or vision. Many individuals on the spectrum have co-occurring conditions (when a person has 2 or more conditions at the same time, ex: 47% of Autistic adults have some form of gastrointestinal issues) that can make receiving an accurate diagnosis especially difficult. However, it is important to identify Autism, as an accurate and early Autism diagnosis can provide the basis for appropriate educational and home-based support.

A lot of misinformation exists about the cause of Autism. There is no known single cause for Autism, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by differences in brain structure or function.

Do you need assistance with a diagnosis? We offer free information and referrals for children and adults with Autism as well as their loved ones through our Navigating Autism Program. You can also check out our Frequently Asked Questions page.

Person-First & Identity-First Language 

Person-first language and identity-first language are two different ways to discuss individuals with disabilities in situations where identifying their disability is relevant.

Person-first language is language that starts with the person before their diagnosis, where the diagnosis acts as a noun that the individual possesses.
Ex:Adult with Autism”“I have Autism”

Identity-first language is language where a person’s diagnosis is a descriptor.
Ex: “Autistic adult”; I am Autistic”

Identity-first language is most commonly accepted amongst Autistic self-advocates because many feel it conveys that being Autistic is a fundamental, permanent part of their identity. However, it is important to respect how each person chooses to identify by mirroring back how an individual talks about themself. You can also ask someone directly what they prefer.